New Zealand: Kiwi Teen’s Death Brings Cyber bullying Into Focus

New Zealand: Kiwi Teen’s Death Brings Cyber bullying Into Focus

Cyber bullying is costing the country an estimated $444 million a year, according to Netsafe, and it's having a massive impact on youth, which one Nor

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Cyber bullying is costing the country an estimated $444 million a year, according to Netsafe, and it’s having a massive impact on youth, which one Northland mother knows only too well.

Summer had just turned 15 when she died after a suspected suicide on June 2 this year. In the lead-up to her death, Summer’s mother, Paula Mills, says her daughter was viciously bullied online, and suspects it played a role in her death.

The harassment started at school for Summer. It began with “teasing and taunting”, her mother told Newshub. She would walk down the hallway and “get pushed into a wall and was called names and all sorts of things”.

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Summer soon developed anxiety and struggled to cope with school. Ms Mills decided to pull her daughter out and enrolled her at Northern Health School, for students who are not attending their school of enrolment due to health or wellbeing needs.

But Summer couldn’t escape the bullying – it followed her to her new school, via the internet. The same students who bullied Summer at her Northland school began sending her hateful messages on Facebook. It was detrimental to Summer, who had been diagnosed with depression.

“I had contacted one of the kids and pleaded with them to stop as I was trying to keep [Summer] alive,” Ms Mills told Newshub. “Summer’s sister also contacted one of the kids and told her to leave her sister alone. She was angry after Summer showed her some of the messages.”

Eventually, Ms Mills says she convinced Summer into blocking the bullies on Facebook, because it was “completely stripping her of all her self-worth and she was not wanting to live anymore”.

“She blocked these particular kids on Facebook,” said Ms Mills. But two weeks before Summer’s death, “somebody, somehow, got through on an anonymous account on Instagram, and away they went again.”

In the next couple of weeks leading up to Summer’s death, her mother recalls nasty comments appearing on the Instagram posts.

She said Summer couldn’t take it anymore.

The penalties for cyberbullying

Summer’s case is still with the coroner and under police investigation.

Ms Mills told Newshub the investigation into her daughter’s case could take anywhere up to a year, and the coroner will then decide if there will be charges laid.

“Not until the investigation is complete will we know whether these kids will be held accountable in any way,” she said.

Senior Police Sergeant Simon King told Newshub it’s difficult to narrow down how bad cyberbullying is in New Zealand, because often it starts offline, as it did for Summer. He said he could not comment on Summer’s case as it’s ongoing.

New Zealanders have protections against cyberbullying under the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015. It aims to “deter, prevent and lessen harmful digital communications”. This includes cyberbullying, harassment and revenge porn posted online.

Sending messages or posting material online that is intended to cause harm is punishable by up to two years in prison or a maximum fine of up to $50,000 for adult individuals.

Young people aged 14-16 can also be liable for that offence, but the penalty would be different, said Mr King, a youth specialist. They would be dealt with through the youth justice system, and in low-level cases could be dealt with outside of court.

“If it was more serious, charges could be laid in the Youth Court,” he said. “There are quite a full range of penalties in the Youth Court [including] community-based [penalties], such as community work and having to attend programmes, or right up to custodial sentences.”


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